The decision to scrap a popular Tauranga walkway used by hundreds of people each day has sparked outcry among the community, including the city's mayor who has written a letter to NZTA urging for a "rethink". Reporter Kiri Gillespie reveals what else the mayor has to say about the NZTA's plans for the Baypark to Bayfair project ahead of a protest at the site tomorrow.
Tauranga's mayor has backed calls to stall a $120 million roading project to allow for an "urgent review" before it becomes too late.
Mayor Greg Brownless said the situation with the Baypark to Bayfair (B2B), project had become "unacceptable". On Monday Brownless wrote to NZ Transport Agency's interim chief executive Mark Ratcliffe in a desperate bid to prompt a "rethink".
A copy of the letter referred to the "extremely disappointing" news the proposed two-lane flyover was expected to reach congestion capacity within just eight-and-a-half years. It also expressed deep concern at the removal of the Bayfair underpass in favour of four signalised pedestrian crossings at the roundabout above.
"Given the $120-plus million cost of this project, we believe a better, longer-term solution should have been achievable," the letter said.
The letter also referred to the transport agency's reluctance to engage with the community being viewed as "arrogant and uncaring". It echoed sentiments from earlier this week from members of the Bayfair Underpass Alliance, a community group formed to fight for the underpass and which is hosting a protest at the site tomorrow.
In July, the transport agency announced the removal of the underpass after finding out it would increase from $13m in cost to $33m.
Brownless told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend the B2B, also known as Baylink, was "very short-sighted".
"We need to change it before it's too late."
Removing the underpass would create more congestion at the already clogged Bayfair intersection, due to the signalised pedestrian and cyclist crossing points, Brownless said.
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"If they do go ahead, within a few years, action will have to be taken and it will cost even more in the long run," he said.
Brownless said the community deserved an explanation and he called for a meeting where the transport agency could answer some "serious questions".
"There is no doubt in my mind that someone is going to get hurt."
"The history of this place is littered with projects that haven't been bold enough. The first Harbour Bridge was only one [lane each way]. Thank goodness the council went ahead and got the land in Route K area, even that was criticised by people with not enough foresight at the time. But this comes into NZTA's responsibility for that highway," Brownless said.
"They know it feeds not just domestic traffic but port-related traffic and other industrial traffic important to our economy. You just can't have it getting congested again. It will have a huge impact."
Construction started in 2017 to build two-lane flyovers on Maunganui Rd/State Highway 2, bypassing the Baypark and Bayfair roundabouts and connecting to State Highway 29A. The work was originally expected to finish in late 2020 but this has now been pushed out to mid-to-late 2021.
The project, as it was right now, went against the Government's policy objectives to encourage more alternative uses of transport because it removed such an integral walking and cycling asset, Brownless said.
In March, Brownless also criticised the transport agency for refusing to support the city's transport plan.
In July, Tauranga City Council chief executive Marty Grenfell also called for "pause" in the project.
Grenfell said the council and transport agency should take stock of current public views and what changes to the project might be needed to ensure it would meet the current Government's transport priorities.
In July, the council were told that new modelling showed there could be a drop in Baylink's "level of service" by 2031, essentially meaning the travel time savings it was expected to provide were possibly already being eroded.
When asked whether the transport agency would consider stalling the project, acting regional director Ross I'Anson said it was aware of disappointment and concerns regarding the underpass' removal. However, keeping it was no longer an affordable option.
He said the agency would continue to work with the council "to consider other options to improve pedestrian and cycling connections across the wider network including exploring if an overbridge north of Concord Avenue is a viable option in the future".
The underpass was due to be demolished in September but this has been postponed to October due to bad weather and safety reviews.
The agency also planned to meet and work with the Bayfair Underpass Alliance, yet spokesman Philip Brown said the group was yet to hear from the agency.
Brown said he agreed with stalling the project "to just take the time to sort out a solution which will be the best for Tauranga".
"We actually would like to see the project stopped just before the Bayfair roundabout and put in a good roundabout there .. and leave the underpass where it is."
The alliance is calling for people to join them at the Matapihi side of the underpass from 1.30pm tomorrow . People are encouraged to bring signs and placards.
The transport agency will not attend the group's protest tomorrow.
When asked whether Minister of Transport Phil Twyford would support the call to stop the project, what his response was to concerns raised about the project, and how this project lined up with the Government's push for a multi-modal network, a spokeswoman declined to comment, saying these were matters for the transport agency.